Virb’s Slick First Impression

In my ongoing quest to explore music social networking sites, I spent some time over the weekend playing with Virb, which is yet another forthcoming MySpace killer social network that’s right now in an invitation-only beta. It’s somewhat music focussed — musicians and labels can create accounts and upload their music, it has a download plugin that logs iTunes listens and calculates top song, artist, album charts and can show real time listens. It has no streaming music except what bands upload, which leaves them wanting in comparison to sites like, MOG, and iLike. It’s Virbtunes plugin only tracks iTunes listens, not those using any other players or mp3 players which is also a major shortcoming, but it is blissfully invisible.

But Virb’s not meant to be a full service music site (the same company’s site PureVolume strives for that) and it does way better than any of the music sites I’ve seen at integrating blogging, video posting and picture posting. It also has a module-based design that they make very easy to customize — you can turn modules on and off, choose what their titles are, move them around, and mess with the color scheme to your heart’s content and still have a hard time making it ugly. It’s a nice format for a flexible range of self presentations, you can really choose what to emphasize about yourself. If you’re css-literate, you can muck with your code, and there are some really nice looking pages on there (and some that are, shall we say, less successful in their creative expression). Textonic has a good overview with screen shots. Mashable’s take:

Virb is what MySpace would be like if it actually worked: a nice design, simple and intuitive navigation and just as much (perhaps even more) customization – not only can you edit all your profile’s colors and fonts in the basic view, but advanced users can edit the css and html, as well as building custom modules (basically snippets of html that make it easier to organize the various items on your page). There’s photo sharing too, of course, plus video-sharing, tagging, groups, comments, messaging and all the other standard features. Coming from the makers of PureVolume, there’s also a strong musical element: a download called Virbtunes works like MOG or, tracking the music you listen to in iTunes and making recommendations. And just like on MySpace, bands also have special pages from which you can grab tracks to populate a player on your own profile.

As most of the beta testers have pointed out, it’s pretty impressive. There’s certainly some ill-will towards MySpace in the design and developer communities, and there’s already a buzz generating around the product that’s similar to the niche brand-power of 37Signals. There’s clearly no chance that the majority of MySpacers will switch, but the real question is whether Virb can roll out in time before the users go elsewhere.

I started a group (“Scandinavia!”), which attracted 2 members from Iceland who I didn’t know plus Avi (who invited me) joined it. I found one person I know offline on there and one I used to know. My initial sense is that unless you were invited into or used your invitations to import a social network you already built elsewhere, there is not enough going on there to make it super sticky yet, so I agree with Mashable that the roll out time is a key issue.

It gets me thinking about all kind of questions:

What is the upper limit in how many online social network sites a person can actively maintain a presence? You can craft an identity and refer people to other places on multiple social network sites, but there’s a cap on how many you can really spend time engaging.

Given that, and given that there are now hundreds if not thousands of social network sites to choose from, what makes people choose to invest in the sites that they do?

Is there a balance of specialized and niche sites in the portfolio of one’s online self?

What are the different strategies people use in choosing these sites to craft just the right multifaceted identity?

How and to what extent do those strategies and self presentations incorporate and rely on our fandom for music, for specific bands, for sports, tv, movies, sneakers, wine… ?

And what about the grownups?

Any thoughts on this from personal experience, things you’ve read, conversations you’ve had, studies you’ve done, etc welcomed. I’ve come to learn lately that there are more interesting people lurking on this blog than I knew, so tell us what you think.

Also, I have some Virb invitations left if you want to explore.

From Barbaro Fandom to Political Activism

You may have heard about the online websites that sprang up around beloved racehorse Barbaro. Delaware Online recently posted a profile of Alex Brown, the man charged with providing continuous online updates about Barbaro’s condition:

Since May 2006, Brown also has overseen the popular Tim Woolley Web site, It was started to keep fans updated on the progress of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro after he shattered his leg in the Preakness. Barbaro’s fight for life ended last month when he was euthanized at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa.

One might wonder what happens to a community born of a shared concern after the object of that concern is gone. The answer so far seems to be that it goes on:

“After Barbaro was hurt, I was on the Web site five hours a day,” Brown said. “We created the Web site for you, the public. We did updates, even blogged about things that might be happening. When Barbaro first passed, the traffic went up considerably. It’s gone down a good bit, but we still average about 8,000 to 9,000 hits a day.”

What keeps it going? As this article spins it anyway, it’s shared commitment to the shared political cause of eliminating horse slaughter in the US:

Brown said the Web site remains popular because of a recently formed group of people around the country known as “Fans of Barbaro.” They continue to spread the word about the slaughter of horses in the United States and the anti-slaughter bill currently before Congress. Human consumption of horsemeat is rare among U.S. residents, but is an accepted practice in some countries.

“The fans of Barbaro are growing and growing,” Brown said. “We are hosting this group on our Web site. These people have become active on a variety of horse issues. They encourage each other to lobby their representatives and senators on the anti-horse slaughter bill. Just this week, they raised $3,500 in 24 hours on the Web site to save six horses and a mule.”

Fandom launches shared practices that go way beyond fandom. This is a good example of an online community spurring offline civic engagement and, I would bet, spurring new opportunities for offline interaction with one another and with new people as well. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many people still think of online community in opposition to offline community and worry that people who spend time doing things like hanging out in a website for a horse who has passed are passing up some kind of rich meaningful face-to-face interaction that they would be having if they logged off. John Robinson and colleauges have studied how people spend their time for several decades. The only really big differences they find between people who spend time on the internet and people who don’t is that net users sleep a lot less.

Update note: This post is generating a lot of traffic from — Welcome! This blog (Online Fandom) watches trends in how fans, industries, artists, and sometimes horses, are relating to one another in new ways using the internet.  Click on the header up there to browse around and explore some other interesting fan phenomena.

More on Feevy

I’ve been affectionately challenged to put the feevy feed on the front page and see what happens and, in the spirit of yesterday’s post about Rick Rubin’s exhortations to keep an open mind, I’ve put them up on the sidebar. I know they don’t line up quite right, my sidebar is a wee bit too skinny for them, but other than that, play along and give some feedback — cool? gets you reading stuff you didn’t plan to? distracting? makes the site way more social? jeez Nancy, who let all those other authors in? What do you think?

The spiritual bases of creativity

Slivka pointed me to a great article in last week’s LA Times by Robert Hilburn about Rick Rubin, producer extraordinaire and, it turns out, seriously spiritual guy. It’s so unusual to see any frank discussions of the role spirituality plays in anyone’s career. He was talking about creating music, but I found his thoughts applicable to all creative process, and wise words for everyone.

Whatever the project or musical style, Rubin enters it with the same goal: Create an easy, reassuring atmosphere that encourages collaboration and experimentation. He thinks of himself as a coach, but you could just as easily call him a counselor or therapist.

As a Communication teacher, I agree completely that creating a context in which people feel relaxed and open to experience is crucial to enabling the best of what can come. It’s at the heart of being a good teacher, a good friend, a good person, a good thinker, a good everything.

It’s not hard to see why artists feel comfortable — even safe — with the man known as the gentle guru of pop. Sit with him for even a few minutes and the tension drains from your body, which is unusual in someone in the hyperactive music business, where urgency is invariably the prevailing mood.

This thought on perspective is helpful too:

“You and the band have to believe what you are doing together is the most important thing in the world,” he says. “But you never want them to think that what they are doing today is the most important. You don’t want them to ever think, ‘Oh my God, I have to get it right today or else.’ “

I’m always amazed at the contrast between my experience of a day of writing and the final written piece when it’s long since done. Yesterday I reread something I wrote a couple of years ago and (as usual) it was hard to believe I’d written it. I experienced the writing experience as a stressful challenge of wrangling things together that was taking too long, but looking back at it, with all the individual days of stressing out about it gone, it’s a pretty fine piece of work, and you can’t tell what any given day’s contribution to it was.

Rule No. 2: Keep an open mind.

“It’s one of the things we talk about at the beginning of a project: ‘Let’s try every idea and see where it takes us, not prejudge it.’ Sometimes it still comes up where someone in the band makes a suggestion and part of me says, ‘That’s a bad idea. Let’s not waste time on that.’ I stop myself and think, ‘Let’s try it and see what it sounds like,’ and very often it sounds good.” […]

“I think the act of creation is a spiritual act [...] I don’t think great songs stem from us. They are just kind of in the universe. The best artists are the ones with the best antennae that draw it in, and meditation helps get rid of tension and tune into the ideas that are out there.”

Yeah. And not just musical ideas. I also loved this way of putting open-mindedness into practice:

Today, he takes his belief in democracy in the studio so far that he and a band will sometimes hire several engineers to do the final mix on a recording and listen to the results without knowing which engineer did which track.

“If you know the greatest mixer in the world mixed one track and the guy who is making coffee on the project mixed that one, you’re liable, psychologically, to think the famous engineer’s mix is bound to be the best,” Rubin explains. “But if you don’t know who did what, the playing field is clear and even, and you are really picking based on what sounds good. And very often we’re surprised. Very often.”

There are a lot of riffs I could go off on at this point, but I’m just going to put this up and let them stimulate your own thoughts of how they apply to what you do (and don’t do) instead.

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Sneakers)

Last week I got an email from AC (Al Cabino), former writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine and hardcore sneaker fan. He’s spearheading a move to get Nike to make the McFly sneakers worn by Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future 2. He’s put up an online petition, which has garnered over 25,000 signatures, and Robert Ryang, award-winning New York film editor who reedited the Shining into a trailer for a romantic comedy, has made a commercial for the McFly (and the petition) that you can see on YouTube . AC is on a quest to get a million views. With almost 120,000 so far, it might happen.

It’s a great confluence of all the things I write about on here — fan creativity, fan power, fans and brands, wacky combinations of the unexpected. So I grabbed the chance to ask some more about the project:


How did this come about? When did you put up the petition?

I’m an ex-writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine, I visited the Adidas worldwide headquarters in Germany, I contributed to the Adidas Superstar 35 book. I love Nike, Puma, Adidas, classic Reebok, Vans, Converse, New Balance Japanese editions. Since late 2005, I started a quest to get the Nike corporation to manufacture the futuristic sneakers Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future Part II.

Is this coming from Back to the Future fandom? Nike fandom? Both? Neither?

Back to the Future fandom, Nike fandom, Michael J. Fox fandom, sneakers fandom.

Why this particular pair of shoes? What’s their special appeal?

Because they are the ‘Holy Grail of movie sneakers’. You’ve got Eddie Murphy’s Adidas in Beverly Hills Cop. You can buy them. You can buy the Nike Cortez that Forrest Gump wore. You can get the Kill Bill Tigers that Uma Thurman wore. You can get Rocky‘s Chuck Taylors when he runs up the stairs. If you look at movie sneakers, the McFlys are the only ones that were created for the film and never worn beyond the silver screen.

There’s a sneaker legend that says in 2015 Nike will come out with them. This I cannot confirm to you, but someone supposedly back in 1989 wrote a letter to Nike, and the answer came from [Nike founder] Phil Knight: “You have to be patient.”

Why Nike?

The futuristic shoes are Nikes. If you watch Back to the Future 2, the scene with the futuristic sneakers is at the beginning of the film, if you watch the scene, you’ll want those sneakers too. Back in 1989, I remember going to many sports stores asking about the futuristic sneakers because I wanted them back then. But the answer I got from everyone was, wait till the year 2015 (the futuristic sneakers are in the scene that takes place in the year 2015). So when it was 2005, which is 10 years before 2015, I decided to start this project to get Nike to make the futuristic sneakers.

Do you have any sense of where your support is coming from?

Friends, sneaker geeks, fashion designers, stylists, magazine editors, writers, artists, futurists, sci-fi aficionados, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, musicians, DJs, store owners, Nike employees, a Wired Magazine writer, etc.

Any feedback from Nike?

Not yet because we have not gone to their headquarters. The project is gonna get a new look, its own mini website, we’ll spread the word more, then we’ll go to the Nike headquarters. Hopefully, we’ll get a meeting with Phil Knight.

My thanks to AC for bringing this to my attention. And remember, if you’re up to something you think I ought to write about (or just watching from the sidelines), don’t be shy about sending it my way!